PREFACE TO THE
To mark the
twentieth anniversary of The Abandonment of the Jews the
Journal of Ecumenical Studies, the leading scholarly publication
in its field,
devoted its Fall 2003 edition to an assessment of the significance and
of Abandonment. In my afterword to that issue I emphasized the
need for additional research on many aspects of America's response to
Holocaust. I had never expected Abandonment to be the last word
the subject. On the contrary, I have been pleased to discover that my
has played some role in stimulating younger scholars to delve into
I had not addressed in depth, since they were not central to my
in these subjects has increased significantly in recent
years. Moreover, there has been a continued, even growing, public
in understanding the ways in which Americans responded to the
of German and Austrian Jewry in the 1930s and then the mass
murder of Jews throughout Axis-occupied Europe in the 1940s.
example of this trend is the surge of interest in the rescue
mission to Vichy France by the young American journalist Varian Fry in
1940-1941. I had the good fortune to interview Mr. Fry for my first
Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938-1941, and to
reference to his lifesaving activity. In recent years, Fry became the
American to be named one of the "Righteous Among the Nations" by
Israel's Holocaust center, Yad Vashem; he was the subject of two
his own memoir, Surrender on Demand, was republished by the
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; a dramatic film about Fry debuted at
the White House, and a documentary by the filmmaker Pierre Sauvage is
in the works; a street in Fry's hometown, in New Jersey, was renamed in
his honor; and a campaign is underway to have his likeness appear on a
U.S. postage stamp.
The latter honor
is being pursued in the wake of the issuing, in early
2006, of a postage stamp honoring Fry's "partner in the 'crime' of
lives," as he dubbed him, the U.S. vice-consul in Marseille, Hiram
IV. The Bingham stamp came about as a result of a years-long nationwide
petition campaign, itself indicative of the growing public awareness
of the handful of Americans who took part in rescue activity. Nor is
the only one of Fry's collaborators to win belated public recognition.
The Reverend Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha in 2006 became the
second and third Americans to be named "Righteous Among the Nations."
As emissaries of the Unitarian Church, they worked closely with
Fry to rescue refugees from the Nazis in France. The forthcoming book by
Dr. Susan Sabak will shed important additional light on the Unitarian
movement's rescue activity in Europe.
corollary to the Sharps' extraordinary bravery was the silence
and indifference with which most American Christians responded
to the news of the annihilation of Europe's Jews. I briefly revisited
topic in the aforementioned issue of the Journal of Ecumenical
a previously unpublished exchange between Dr. Eugene]. Fisher of the
United States Catholic Conference and myself, concerning U.S. Catholic
responses to the Holocaust. Further studies of the responses of
various Christian churches and organizations to the Holocaust are long
overdue. While there were some American Christian religious leaders,
and some church organizational structures, who did press for U.S. rescue
action, they were very few. We need to know more about what happened
Fry and his
network were able to bring more than two thousand Jewish
and political refugees from Vichy France to the United States on the eve
the Holocaust, hut that was a very small number compared to what was
needed. The desperate search for havens for European Jews in the late
1930s was almost always unsuccessful. Still, small rays of hope did
on some far-flung corners of the globe. Thanks to the efforts of Dr.
Weiman, founding director of the Center for Holocaust and Humanity
Education at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, the public is learning
about how the American governor of the Philippines, Paul McNutt,
brought more than one thousand German Jewish refugees to that U.S.
during 1937 to 1939 over the objections of the State Department.
The pursuit of
those elusive havens emerges more deafly when seen
through the lens of the U.S. consul officials in Europe prior to 1941.
Zucker's important recent book, In Search of Refuge: Jews and U.S.
Consuls in Nazi Germany, 1933-1941 (Vallentine Mitchell, 2001),
the efforts these gatekeepers made to keep Jewish refugees away from
research needs to be done on many aspects of the
U.S. response to the plight of German Jewry in the 1930s. I am pleased
note the significant work undertaken recently by professors Stephen
and Laurel Leff. Norwood's studies of the academic community's
response to Nazism break new, albeit painful, ground, as he has
evidence that the leaders of America's elite universities sought to
good relations with the Hitler regime. His lengthy essay on the
relations between Harvard president James Conant and the Nazis,
in American Jewish History, is jarring.
Left's most recent
research found that very few U.S. newspaper publishers,
and only one of the dozens of American journalism schools, were
willing to hire German Jewish refugee journalists-their own professional
colleagues-who were seeking positions in the United States in order to
escape Hitler. (The school that was the exception hired just one
as a researcher.) In response to Leff's findings, the David S. Wyman
for Holocaust Studies mobilized more than eighty journalism school
deans and faculty to pressure the Newspaper Association of America to
express regret for its predecessor's actions in the 1930s.
expressions of remorse obviously cannot undo the damage
done seven decades ago, they constitute an important step in the
process of our society coming to grips with the Allies' woeful
response to the Holocaust and learning lessons from that dark
Professor Leff has
also recently authored the award-winning book,
Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important
(Cambridge University Press, 2005), a masterful study of how the
New York Times covered the Holocaust, and how that coverage
public knowledge and the Roosevelt administration's response. It is the
best book yet written on media coverage of the Holocaust and is likely
remain the gold standard for the topic for a long time to come.
publications of prominence, such as Time, Newsweek, The
New Republic, and The Nation, merit scholarly scrutiny as
and commentators should also be considered, ranging from Max
Lerner, who actively promoted rescue, to Walter Lippmann, who refused
to mention the plight of Europe's Jews in his columns.
Much further study
of American Jewry's response is needed, including
examination of Jewish leaders, organizations, local communities and
as well as the Jewish press. At the same time, I am glad to note
the work that has been done in recent years, including essays in several
scholarly journals by Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff and the
book he and I coauthored, A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson,
and the Holocaust (The New Press, 2002).
Other books of
note concerning the activities of Bergson's group inĚ
clude Medoff's Militant Zionism in America: The Rise and Impact of
Jabotinsky Movement in the United States, 1926-1948 (University of
Press, 2002) and Prof. Judith Tydor Baumel's The "Bergson Boys"
and the Origins of Contemporary Zionist Militancy (Syracuse
Press, 2005). Prof. Joseph Ansell's biography, Arthur Szyk: Artist,
Pole (Littmann, 2004), helps us understand Szyk's unique dual
one of the leading artists of his generation and a senior activist with
group's impressive ability to forge alliances with disparate
groups should be more c1oselyexamined. Within the Jewish community,
the Bergsonites collaborated with the Orthodox rabbinical leadership to
bring more than four hundred rabbis to Washington in October 1943 to
march for rescue. Already, recent scholarship by Efraim Zuroff, Haskel
Lookstein, and David Kranzler has added significantly to the literature
U.S. Orthodox Jewry's response to the Holocaust, including that historic
Beyond the Jewish
community, Bergson managed to forge important alliances
with prominent members of other ethnic groups to bolster his
campaigns for U.S. rescue action. The Wyman Institute has undertaken
pioneering research on the involvement of prominent African Americans
in the Bergson group. Additional scholarly exploration of the topic will
help fill the gaps in our understanding of how various segments of
society reacted to the persecution of European Jewry.
Studies are needed
of members of Congress who were important to the
issue of rescue. They would deal with those who fought for rescue
especially senators Guy Gillette, Elbert Thomas, and Edwin Johnson, and
Congressmen Will Rogers Jr., Emanuel Celler, and others. The governor
of Utah's 2005 decision to proclaim a statewide "Elbert Thomas Day"
Wyman Institute project) to commemorate the senator's Holocaust
rescue work is an appropriate honor that needs to be followed by
examination. Those who stalled or blocked rescue action also merit
attention. They would include, for example, Congressman Sol Bloom,
and such people as Senator Robert R Reynolds and others involved with
the adamant and active anti-immigration movement.
The roles of
President Franklin Roosevelt, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt,
and FDR's cabinet members and senior advisers also require further
exploration and analysis. Prof. Greg Robinson's study of Roosevelt's
decision to intern Japanese Americans, By Order of the President
University Press, 2001), revealed significant new information about
FDR's racially exclusionist conception of American society.
the role Roosevelt envisioned for Asian Americans, Jews, and blacks in
the life and culture of the United States may provide another clue to
mindset that shaped his policy decisions concerning Jewish refugees from
The second volume
of Prof. Blanche Wiesen Cook's magisterial biography,
Eleanor Roosevelt (Viking Penguin, 1999), helped clarify the
Lady's knowledge of the unfolding disaster for German Jewry and the
affecting her ability and willingness to influence FDR's refugee policy.
The forthcoming third and final volume, which will cover the period
the Holocaust, should be even more enlightening.
Zucker's recent research on Labor Secretary Frances
Perkins sheds light on one of the few cabinet members who actively
for aid to the refugees. The time has also come for full-length studies
of the efforts on behalf of rescue by Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes
Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr., as well as the senior Treasury
aides who subsequently staffed the War Refugee Board, such as John
Pehle and Josiah E. DuBois Jr. Many years ago, the University of
at Amherst, my academic home throughout my teaching career,
offered me the opportunity to name my chair; I chose to name it after
DuBois. More recently, I was pleased to speak about him at a Wyman
conference focusing on DuBois's life and work.
search for havens in the 1930s took on added urgency, indeed
desperation, in the 1940s, when being trapped in Europe meant facing
near-certain death at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.
Monty Noam Penkower's Decision on Palestine Deferred: America,
and Wartime Diplomacy, 1939-1945 (Frank Cass, 2002) describes how
fate of Palestine, the most feasible of the prospective havens, fell
the cold calculations of Allied diplomacy.
No part of
Abandonment generated more controversy than my chapter
on the Roosevelt administration's rejection of requests to bomb the gas
chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz and the railroads leading to
Auschwitz. Scholarly and popular interest in the topic remains high,
than two decades after I first wrote about it. Public discussion of the
has benefited greatly from Stuart Erdheim's important documentary film,
They Looked Away, and the videotaped interview by Erdheim and
Television's Chaim Hecht with George S. McGovern, the 1972 Democratic
presidential nominee who as a young U.S. pilot in 1944 overflew
Auschwitz to bomb nearby oil factories. The Wyman Institute showed the
interview to a House International Relations Committee task force in
2004. Also notable are Prof. Paul Miller's essays about the bombing
in several scholarly publications; and Prof. Joseph Bendersky's
book, The "Jewish Threat": Anti-Semitic Politics of the U.S. Army
Books, 2000), which documented the racist and anti-Semitic teachings
prevalent in U.S. military academies during the interwar era and how
shaped attitudes toward Jews and the Holocaust-and the bombing
issue-in the American military.
Slowly but surely,
the American public is coming to grips with the tragic
fact that our beloved nation failed, and failed dismally, when
with one of history's most compelling moral challenges. The public's
is a heartening development, because learning the lessons from the
mistakes of the Hitler years is crucial to preventing them from
They are lessons of paramount importance, because at bottom, they are
lessons about tolerance, human values, and justice.
David S. Wyman
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